A Most Violent Year
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac stun as a couple trying to make it during one of the deadliest periods New York has ever seen.
When the couple your movie centres on are fiery and passionate you'd better hope they have chemistry, something Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac do in spades in director J.C. Chandor's latest offering A Most Violent Year. Perhaps it helps that the two stars have known each other since drama school so they actually do have history - whatever, it works.
Set in 1981, this is a story about trying to make a living during the deadliest year New York has ever seen. To hammer this home there's a backdrop of news programmes during many scenes, always with the reader detailing the latest assault or murder to beset the city.
Abel Morales (Isaac) is the son of immigrants who has built himself up from an oil truck driver to the boss of an expanding fuel empire. He's married to Anna (Chastain), the daughter of an infamous mobster whose reputation looms large over the whole film.
So far, so Sopranos - but actually the grit of this story is very different. Abel's company is being targeted by thugs who have been attacking his trucks, beating his men and stealing the fuel. While Anna is adamant it's time to get real about the threat, Abel doesn't want to get drawn into a war. He also doesn't want to arm his staff with guns, instead convinced that talking to his rivals is the key to sorting the issue.
It's clear that his competitors are less than squeaky clean, making the District Attorney office's interest in Abel even more unfair. He's done all he can to allay assistant DA Lawrence (David Oyelowo's) fears, but the books don't lie. And unfortunately it's Anna who's been keeping them.
She obviously knows more than she's letting on, which is the first of many surprises from the character. She evidently takes a different view of hijackings than her husband, made all the more obvious when a meeting with the bank ends with the couple hitting a deer during the drive home. While Abel stands over the stricken creature unable to do anything, a deafening 'pop pop' rings out. Cut to Anna, who has calmly put the animal out of its misery thanks to a handy handbag-sized gun.
And this is the crux of the film - how far would you go for your family? Or for dreams? It's an interesting idea, perfectly played out by the masterful Isaac and Chastain. While the basic storyline of A Most Violent Year might not seem brand new, the way it's handled is. We watch as Abel makes decisions it's obvious pain him, but would we do any differently? Ideals are fine in a perfect world, but is Anna's cynical view perhaps more honest? One thing that is clear - it's the perfect role for Chastain, and nice to see a female character who isn't just window dressing.
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